Aptly titled, Future of Future, is art about reaping what you sow. The installation piece exists in the room almost, quite literally, growing. On the floor, bean sprouts grow over a bed of stones and gravels, peaking through the plants are two deer rendered in neon. The monitor shows a video of the artist, Mehraneh Atashi, wielding a chain in a circular motion, almost as if stirring the air. Though this piece holds complexities and potential for uncountable interpretations, the message I read is clear: here is a garden, a garden for healing — where the future can grow from all the memories we plant.
“I look at the garden as an urgent, hopeful place, for mourning and healing. A self-mediation place with magic.”
In 1985, Derek Jarman began developing his garden after learning he was HIV-positive. Jarman’s garden holds native flora as well as exotic species, and it all began with collecting stones and arranging them in circles. Jarman, perhaps best known as a film-maker, described his garden as therapeutic, eventually publishing a book on the practice in 1991 called Modern Nature. Though not lush and green (nor as traditional in appearance) as Jarman’s, Future of Future is a garden of what can be grown after an apocalypse. When there is destruction, how can we find grounding afterwards? The answer is to start from a seed and build up.
The black eye peas seed is a vital symbol in this work. Each seed is both the moment of life, the sole carrier of the future, and the moment of death — the final stage of a withering fruit, last breath in the life cycle of plants. If the seed is planted, then the future is activated in some way, though, not always guaranteed. During the duration of See You There: Making History at Whitman-Walker, we will see the seeds either transform into bean plants or watch the multitude of growing conditions halt their development. Either outcome feels important to me; the unpredictability is a good reminder that we are not always in control. I do not mean that as a dismal reading, but rather as relief. Let out a “We are not always in control!” and a laugh.
The deer look at us and look away shyly. In nature they are hunted but here they are guides showing us around the place. Atashi describes the deer as the collectors of memory. I like to take that to mean they are who will make sure the future is built upon the learnings of the past — a lesson that seems of pressing importance in this exhibition. As the first room holds photographs of the pasts, ephemera, and work directly grounded in history, the deer in the second room are there to remind you to hold that information close to your heart as you move forward.
On the screen is a chain, whipping around by the hand of the artist. Hovering over the stones and bean growth is Atashi’s hand, I take her presence as a sign of care. This chain is one of the many references she pulls from Persian culture. The chain is credited as a nod to self-flagellation, where a tool previously used for punishment can be a tool of harvest.
Though Atashi’s work is conceptual, there’s much in the work that is literal — meaning is made by the piece through the simple fact that it exists/is existing. The different elements of the installation are not there purely for their symbolism: They also sit there in the room with you. You are not just witnessing a piece but you are inside it. If Jarman processes healing through Modern Nature, Atashi does so with Future Nature, and you are now invited to heal with them.